Nomophobia and Grandma

a picture of a hand holding a phone. The phone text says, "I fear nothing...except losing my phone."
a special case of nomophobia and grandma

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I was  driving my grandmother home, it’s a weekly trip, and we were in a part of our county that is hilly and isolated. The tall mountains there tend to block cell phone coverage. So  a conversation she was having with my mother dropped and there was no way to call her back. My grandmother became agitated and stressed for the entire time we were off the grid. I was not sure what to make of it because in about 45 minutes we would be home with full service. Help! Michelle

Dear Michelle: I am guessing your grandmother lives in an urban area where Internet connectivity is a surety.  Having wireless services seems as normal as electricity or running water. Some people get  anxious and stressed when they lose the phone or other connections.

There’s a name for this fear. It’s called ‘nomophobia’ a term coined in a British study back in 2008. No-mobile-phone-phobia is usually associated with younger people when they lose their phones or are outside a reception area.  They may experience something like a panic disorder. This anxiety and over-dependency on the phone is sometimes classified as a behavioral addiction. 

Almost no one imagines that seniors might experience nomophobia as well. Seniors may  be prone to it for different reasons: perhaps the phone is their happy place if they feel socially isolated or dependent. It’s literally their lifeline if they are in fragile health and need to reach out for medical help.  Seniors may experience nomophobia but probably  for different reasons than young people. 

On the Road:

However, based on what you describe, your grandmother might have been stressed for reasons other than nomophobia.  Maybe the call with Mom cut off at an inopportune time. Or, the fear and anxiety she expressed might have been specific to the trip you were taking and the car you were driving.  Did some past experience make her fearful that you might get a flat tire, run out of gas, or have engine trouble on the last mile home? Lots of people no longer know how to change a tire, and without phone service you would not be able to summon the auto club either. Roadside call boxes are a rarity.

Alternatively,  she might have stressed over conditions totally outside of your control.  If there was heavy rain, what if you got caught in a flood? If there was a sudden earthquake, where would you go? Several columns ago, there was discussion about the need to be uber prepared if you live in a remote area where the Internet service is spotty. 

Broadband rolling out:

Chances are in a couple of years the Internet will reach the hilly area you are driving through. The states and federal governments now have emergency funding to wire up “dead spots.” There is now recognition that remote areas suffer from ‘digital redlining.’ So just like  the public post office, there will be future broadband service that reaches practically everywhere. The technology to do this continues to improve.

Meanwhile, since you take this trip often, there are Garmin satellite phones that can bridge the gap or you can invest in the newest Apple 14 phone, which is supposed to have backup satellite connectivity.  That would help if you got stranded in the hills.

Without delving too far, it’s a good idea to help your grandmother put this issue in perspective. For your next trip,  start by making sure your vehicle is in good mechanical shape and you drive at a safe speed. Then engage grandma in  a good long conversation to take her mind elsewhere.  Finally, turn off the ringers on your phones and stash them in the glove compartment. The goal here is relaxed out- of -sight, out- of- mind.